Four female characters that broke the Horror mould

The genre of horror is littered with too many formulaic, characterless female roles that mainly serve the purpose of eye-candy and/or axe fodder.

Article originally published on The National Student

How often have we seen a beautiful damsel walk right into the arms of danger, proceeded by a pathetic escape attempt that a deer on roller skates could have executed better? Amid this sea of beauty and stupidity there are, however, a handful of horror films that offer us a female lead with some complexity and depth:


The Descent (2005)

Neil Marshall’s British horror masterpiece not only has a strong female lead in Sarah, played beautifully by Shauna Macdonald, but unconventionally boasts an all-female cast too.

The film follows six women on a caving trip that goes very quickly awry when they not only find themselves lost, but also discover that they are not the only ones down in the caves. Macdonald lends a poignant humanity to her character, treading seamlessly between the cold and distant mother who lost her husband and daughter in a tragic accident and the warm and likeable woman that her friends know and love.

The supporting cast is also very strong, allowing the different relationship dynamics and personality clashes to manifest themselves in a believable way and bring some gravitas to the gore and suspense occurring around them. The film arguably overdoes Sarah’s transformation into a no-nonsense action woman by the end, but it is ultimately plausible and does not take too much away from the rest of this instant classic of the genre.


Rosemary’s Baby (1967)

Roman Polanski’s psychological chiller is quite deservedly regarded as amongst the finest horror films in history, which would never have been the case without a believable and likeable performance from Mia Farrow as Rosemary.

With almost every line of dialogue taken from Ira Levin’s original novel, the film is a slow burner to say the least, but Farrow, alongside John Cassavetes as husband Guy, keeps the audience engaged throughout the duration. Rosemary, while touchingly naive, is the embodiment of a loving and determined mother that would go to any lengths to protect her unborn child. Rosemary’s Baby deals beautifully with issues of motherhood, marriage and the supernatural, with one of the most chilling endings in all of cinema. Some would think twice about having a baby after watching this one.


The Babdook (2014)

Astonishingly, The Babadook is Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, an incredible achievement seen as many have praised it for spearheading a move back towards ‘proper’ horror films.

This is another film that deals with motherhood as its main theme, with Essie Davis playing a troubled mother who is increasingly unable to deal with the hyperactive imagination of her child, Samuel, since the loss of her husband. Soon she has nightmarish visions of her own.

The Babadook presents a beautiful metaphor for coping with loss and, like Rosemary’s Baby, explores the unbreakable bond between mother and child. Davis is hauntingly convincing as a mother who is on the edge of sanity and makes the supernatural elements of the film painfully human.


It Follows (2014)

By far the film with the most intriguing concept on the list. The ‘monster’ of It Follows is not only terrifying, but has a curious folklore to it, one that puts the issue of gender, and specifically sexuality, under the spotlight. The creature may take the form of any person, and constantly walks towards your exact location without rest. To get rid of it you must have sex with someone else, at which point it will follow that person instead.

The action begins when Jay (Maika Monroe) has a romantic night with a boy who as it transpires had the curse, and passes it on to her. Sex becomes more than just a mere way to keep a horror film entertaining, it becomes a matter of life and death. The young and beautiful Jay can more or less have any man she wants, and as such constantly faces the dilemma of whether to pass on the curse and endanger someone else, or deal with it herself.

The obvious analysis would be that the film is a criticism of promiscuity amongst young people, but there is more ambiguity to it than that. Whether a deep social commentary on sexuality and womanhood or simply an inventive premise, It Follows presents us with the most unique of female roles

By Peter Simmonds

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2 thoughts on “Four female characters that broke the Horror mould

  1. I’m not a horror fan per se but did watch two of the four (It Follows and Rosemary’s Baby) last month to get in the mood for Halloween. I’ve read good things about both The Descent and The Babadook and will give them a try after reading your post. After seeing the “first” final girl in Halloween a few weeks ago, it’s nice to see this trope continue to evolve. By the way, not sure if you’ve seen The Witch yet but it has a pretty unconventional heroine as well.


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